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genuine diversity

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Genuine Diversity

Genuine diversity in the workplace is something that eludes many employers regardless of their size. After all, what good is diversity if it’s token, if it’s window dressing and there’s no genuine inclusion? Bridging the gap between diversity and inclusion is where the rubber meets the road.

Today’s guest, Michelle Silverthorn, is a recognized organizational diversity expert with some tips on how to get more traction.

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What You’ll Discover About Genuine Diversity (highlights & transcript):

Authentic Diversity* Why organizations keep failing to achieve genuine diversity [1:47]

* Authenticity as the key to genuine diversity [5:15]

* How authenticity fuels employee engagement [7:20]

* Balancing tradeoffs to maintain authenticity [9:18]

* Why diversity training programs fail to achieve genuine authenticity [13:22]

* How meaningful goals and transparency foster genuine diversity [15:19]

* How to establish meaningful diversity goals [16:37]

*How small businesses can nurture a culture of genuine diversity [19:08]

* And MUCH more.




Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] Genuine diversity in the workplace is something that eludes many employers regardless of their size. After all, what good is diversity if it’s token, if it’s window dressing and there’s no genuine inclusion? Bridging the gap between diversity and inclusion is where the rubber meets the road. And today’s guest is a recognized organizational diversity expert with some tips on how to get more traction.


Announcer: [00:00:26] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.


Hanna: [00:00:37] Welcome to Business Confidential Now, I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Michelle Silverthorn.


Hanna: [00:00:45] Michelle is a recognized organizational diversity expert and the founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation where she works with Fortune 500 companies, tech startups, nonprofits and universities to design authentic, inclusive spaces designed on equity, belonging and authenticity. Michelle is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School. She’s also a TED speaker and author of the book Authentic Diversity How to Change the Workplace for Good.


Hanna: [00:01:17] Welcome to Business Confidential Now Michelle.


Michelle Silverthorn: [00:01:20] Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.


Hanna: [00:01:23] Well, I’m happy to have you because the subject of diversity and inclusion is more important than ever. And I’m so delighted to have you join me today because the idea of diversity being a good thing in business has been around for decades. But when it comes to making things happen, to delivering on the goods, on the promises, it feels like there’s still so much room for considerable improvement.






Hanna: [00:01:47] Why do you think organizations keep failing at diversity?


Michelle: [00:01:51] Well, that’s a really great question. I think the challenge for a lot of organizations is they don’t prioritize it. You know, they say that they’re prioritizing it. They say that it’s important to them. But one of the activities they typically have folks do when I’m doing my programing trainings with them is, you know, you think of a problem, right? Whatever your challenges when it comes to diversity. And, you know, I talk a lot about black people in the workplace. And one is we don’t have enough black executives. Right.


Michelle: [00:02:15] Do you think that’s your challenge? You say the reason is because there’s a broken pipeline. Right. But what I ask my attendees to do is to ask why five times so there is a broken pipeline. Why is that? And then ask why again, because we’re not recruiting at the right schools, because our executives think that you only recruited these five schools because they are only comfortable hiring people from these high schools, because they only work with the people who attend these five schools. And by the time you get to the fifth, why then you get to the underlying issue that’s really underlying all of this.


Michelle: [00:02:44] But for a lot of people, if they kept going, they get to that sixth or seventh why because our leaders don’t prioritize it. They aren’t willing to commit the resources. They aren’t willing to commit the people. They aren’t willing to take the risks. And when we aren’t willing to do that, we’re just going to keep on falling behind on diversity and inclusion.


Hanna: [00:03:00] So as you’re peeling back this, I’m going to call it an onion, a clove of garlic, whatever, something that people really don’t want to get their hands dirty with.


Michelle: [00:03:10] Something, something really smelly and something like really aromatic. Yeah.


Hanna: [00:03:15] Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But as you’re doing this layer by layer, what types of things come up most often?


Michelle: [00:03:23] And that’s a great question, because when you’re thinking about when, when we talk about diversity there’s 300 million books in this space . . .  let’s just say 300 million people and of the many dozens of identity groups, the dozens of gender identity groups and race and ethnicity and immigration status and all of that, a lot of what happens with diversity and inclusion comes down to people because that’s what it is. So are we centering the marginalization and the exclusion of those who have not felt or are not at the center of any organization?


Michelle: [00:03:55] And so when you look at what’s happening with diversity and inclusion, when you ask, you know, why do we keep on losing so many talented people of color or why are there not more women in our C-suite, or why is it that all the Latina engineers are not getting promoted past like level four? And you look at these issues again and again, not just when it comes to recruiting. Everyone wants to focus on recruiting, but you have to think about retention.


Michelle: [00:04:18] The people who you are bringing in, are they staying? Are they succeeding? Are they getting access to the good work? Are they getting promoted? And so I feel like when we start changing our perspective on diversity, we focus so much on that entry level and not enough on that higher retention level.


Michelle: [00:04:34] And that’s why I say we have to stop playing by the old rules of diversity. We have to stop following the rules that we followed 20 years ago and really focus on how can we switch our perspective; how do we retain and promote a diverse workforce and how do we ensure that that diverse workforce feels like they can belong and succeed as well?


Hanna: [00:04:53] You are just laying this out here for me. So what do organizations need to change about retention and maybe even let’s take a step back employee engagement, because there’s a reason people leave. So how can they be more engaged? Because that is part of where the inclusion would come in you know.







Michelle: [00:05:15] That’s the heart and soul of when I say authentic diversity. Right. So a lot of people . . . so in my book, I talk about the old rules and the new rules.  In the old rules of diversity you just make the business case. Bias is fine. We don’t talk about race, etc. And then we have the new rules like new targeted rules that you can focus on to really make diversity matter.


Michelle: [00:05:35] And the very last one of those new rules is what does it mean to be able to bring your authentic self to work, and not in the way so many people think of authenticity. Oh, they’re so dismissive of all these special snowflakes and all they want to do is wear ripped jeans. They want to talk the way they want and they forget that there is a standard of professionalism.


Michelle: [00:05:53] Yeah, I worked for the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. If you ever want to talk about professionalism, I did that for seven years. There are standards of professionalism. So when I say authenticity and when I say belonging, my question is I wasn’t even allowed in the room when you decided those standards. When you talk about how we want people to interact with each other and how feedback is delivered and how work is assigned and how work is done. That was all decided when people like me weren’t even allowed in the door.


Michelle: [00:06:23] So when we talk about how I can belong, how I can stay, how I can succeed, let’s think about how we can create spaces where I’m allowed to also bring my authentic values into the work that I do, and not just in who the person who I present at work, but in how I assign work, how I talk to people, how I include them in my team, how I balance my work and my family life, how if I need to pray five times a day, how I can do that.


Michelle: [00:06:47] If I need to work on assignments and work on work at 4:00 in the morning or 10 in the morning or six in the evening, how I can do that too and still make your workplace a success. And that is why people stay not just because they feel engaged in their work, because that’s great if they do, but also even if that work isn’t the work that they’ve been dreaming about doing since they were like three years old, it’s work that they have autonomy over that. They see that their values matter when they come in the door. And that’s what I want when I want people to really dive into the meaning of authenticity when it comes to diversity.




Hanna: [00:07:20] So you draw a distinction, if I’m hearing you collect correctly, between authenticity and engagement.


Michelle: [00:07:29] That’s the interesting question I don’t think I’ve ever heard. So I don’t think I draw a distinction. Good question. I don’t think I draw distinction between authenticity and  engagement. I do feel like if you are not going to be fully engaged in your work, then you’re probably going to leave. I mean, this is what lots of lots of people show over and over again.


Michelle: [00:07:46] But I do think there is a line between realizing that not everyone’s work is going to be engaging. Right. Not everyone at work is going to strike deep into the core of who you want to be as a person. I think we spend our lifetimes trying to find the work that when we wake up every day, we can tell our kids, I am so proud to work at X and I am so proud to do that work. My goal is to have life be a journey to get to that point.


Michelle: [00:08:09] And as you dream to get to that point where you can see I am fully being a part of this movement, whatever this work that I do is, how is it that I am using my authentic self, my authentic values, my authentic history and the perspectives that I have and the ancestors that came before me? How do I bring that all into the, you know, 70 percent of the time that I spend at work every day, especially now during Covid? And I don’t think it’s too hard.


Michelle: [00:08:35] Right. We saw in the last eight months or the last year how quickly companies pivoted when it came to a pandemic, how quickly they said, OK, we are facing this crisis. Here are all the ways we are going to change how work is done. And if we want to do that, if we really want to keep our employees engaged, you don’t need to keep them happy, happiness is great, but if we really would like to keep them engaged and fulfilled in the work that they do, then I want us to work as companies and especially as leaders to figure out the person that you are leading, the team that you are leading, what is the best use of their time and their work and their efforts using and making sure that the identities that they bring in the door they don’t have to sacrifice outside of the door.




Hanna: [00:09:18] Well, that sounds fair. How do tradeoffs fit into this, because no job is perfect and a career is a journey, and as people progress in their careers there may be portions of their job that they absolutely love and they realize there’s a certain amount of grunt work that comes with it, tasks and responsibilities that if they could put them aside, they would, but they can’t. And so, you know, how does . . . are there tradeoffs with authenticity? I mean . . .


Michelle: [00:09:52] You know, I feel like whenever some young, you know in the book, I talk about a young black woman who came to me and asked me, when am I allowed to actually be black in the workplace? And that was the question.


Michelle: [00:10:03] If you read the book, that’s the question that launched this entire journey, that I might try and figure out how do I answer her question? When is she allowed to be authentically black in the workplace? And why isn’t she? And what is the pushback when she’s not? You know, you go through your journey as an employee and then as a manager and then, you know, we own our own businesses as business owners. You realize that there are things that you will always have to do, right? There are things that you will dislike doing.


Michelle: [00:10:27] My question to you is, when you think about the core values you have as a human being, whether they were the ones that your parents instilled in you, whether they’re the ones the ones who learned them in college, who they really are as a person, as you grow through your life, when you raise your kids and you think about your values, for me, authenticity comes down to that. Do you see your values reflected in the work that you do? It may not always be the case.


Michelle: [00:10:50] And I did a lot of document review when I was a lawyer. Right. It may not always be the case, but when you’re clicking and clicking and clicking and clicking, you’re going to say I authentically feel, you know, for example, your values, your faith. I authentically feel that my faith is a prominent part in the work that I’m doing. But are there parts of your job that when you do those parts of your job, you feel those values coming forward? And if that is the case, is it enough to hold on to those moments when you do feel those moments of just the exhaustion and the loneliness, especially the fear of Covid coming over you as well? And it’s always that navigation, right? It’s always that journey.




Michelle: [00:11:27] How can you get closer and closer to having that authenticity at work? And as people are able to do that, this is usually what I tell my folks, I try, you know, equip them to be the people who want to be able to stay and succeed. I want you to stay and I want the barriers to your success to be removed. And it’s always that two-part journey. So from my perspective, yes, it’s possible.


Michelle: [00:11:50] It’s never easy and there will always be tradeoffs. But you hold on to your loadstar, you hold on to your North Pole and you hold on to those, you can continue going forward. And when those barriers come at you and they will come again and again, like I talk about my book, what are you holding on to help you overcome them?


Hanna: [00:12:07] So it’s really knowing what your non-negotiable values are . . .


Michelle: [00:12:12] I love that phrase.


Hanna: [00:12:13] Your core. And then there’s always a handful of things that, well, I could take it or leave it. I’d prefer to leave it. But it’s not the end of the world because I remember working with someone and she found out that the person heading the department lied. And for her that was a non-negotiable. His perspective was, well, everybody lies in business and she goes, really? See ya! 


Michelle: [00:12:37] Yeah


Hanna: [00:12:39] So knowing that . . .


Michelle: [00:12:41] That’s not for me.


Hanna: [00:12:42] Yeah.


Michelle: [00:12:42] It’s not the space I want to be in because that’s not the values I hold on to. And, you know, and then and that’s why for a lot of this book, what I talk about is it’s not on me as an employee to be the only person to figure this out. This book is written for managers. It’s written for bosses. It’s written for C-Suite Executives. It’s written for leaders.


Michelle: [00:12:58] You have to create the circumstances to make sure that your employees feel valued and whole. And we talk about race and we talk about bias and we talk about the barriers that exist, because that is your job as a leader, because what else could it be? And having them be able to see people and ensure that people are able to take that exact journey that you just talked about, that is really what I hope that my leaders are able to do.




Hanna: [00:13:22] Well, let’s talk about diversity training programs. What are your thoughts on those? How good are they? Where are they falling flat? Because they’ve been around for a while, too, and something’s not working right.


Michelle: [00:13:35]  No. You know, training programs, like me I do a lot of you know keynotes, a lot of workshops. We do a lot of consulting. I usually tell my clients if I come in and you were telling me that you would like a program on unconscious bias. Great. What else you got? Because it’s not going to be the end all and be all.


Michelle: [00:13:50] I do great programs. People really love it. They love being engaged with me. They laugh and they cry. And, you know, they feel that their perspectives are shifted. And then what do they do? Because you can I can’t come out every single week and talk to what I tell my clients about. Where do I fit in the spectrum of what you are doing in the company?


Michelle: [00:14:08] I don’t work for your company. I am an external consultant who comes in and who helps train people to shift their perspective and change their behaviors and adapt to new habits. But you still have to continue to supplement that and amplify that and work on that. So where I want to make sure that diversity training programs go and where they should go, where they have to go is to fit into that strategy that a company has.


Michelle: [00:14:30] So what is your strategy? Is it that you’re going to then have your employees look at those hiring resumes, those resumes and make a determination that, OK, when we look at all the resume, when we make the comparisons, here’s what we thought. Here’s what we didn’t think. Here’s who we put through. And here’s an equal candidate that we didn’t put through. And part of the reason we didn’t put through her candidacy is because her first name sounded black, like that is what happened over and over again until the bias studies show us.


Michelle: [00:14:56] And what are your goals? Right. And this is something I talk about in my book all the time. Where are you trying to get to? Not even like, I don’t want quotas. I don’t want you to give me you’re going to have to fill six out of seven slots or whatever people say. Like, give me an idea of where you would like to be, where would you like to be in five months and five years and 15 years? And then what are the steps to get there?




Michelle: [00:15:19] Because change isn’t going to happen overnight. But what we have to measure is progress. And if we aren’t going to keep people on board for change, you’re probably not going to tell people the workplace is going to change over that we’re not going to stay on board. But if you tell them, here are the 17 different steps we are taking to get to point B, and then here are the 12 steps we’re going to take to get to point C, and our goal is to get the point W and here are all the steps and the way I would like you to be involved here and here and here.


Michelle: [00:15:47] You are a leader. Here is how you are going to be involved. Here is how you bring your team along. And frankly, here is how your salary is going to be cut if you don’t. And it’s that kind of accountability and that kind of transparency, and I talk about millennials all the time, and especially with millennials. That’s the transparency and accountability that we need if we’re really going to move forward, big take steps on diversity. And then you do diversity training as a part of those steps. It is not the end all. It is not the be all. It is part of that journey as well.


Hanna: [00:16:16] You talk about where you want to be, you know, point A to point B, getting to point W. I mean, I think a lot of people do think of it in terms of quotas, what are just an example of two or three examples of the type of benchmark that would be meaningful for inclusion?




Michelle: [00:16:37] I think it depends on what your company is. It depends on who, what your competitors are doing. It depends on who your leaders are. What are their benchmarks like? I can say your benchmarks should be 40 percent Latinx executives. That means nothing. And it means nothing because I don’t know who your company is. I don’t know what they do. I don’t know what your market is. I don’t know who you are, what your pipeline even looks like. I don’t know what city you’re in.


Michelle: [00:16:59] So you have to look at all of those different factors. Quotas are saying that you need to hire three transgender people per woman in the next two years. How is that even going to happen if you have nothing in place to do that? Plus how is that even going into effect? You may have to hire three transgender woman and you have 7000 employees.


Michelle: [00:17:21] So when you think of benchmarks, when you think of targets, when you think of goals, please look at what you are trying to do as a company. What is the product you are trying to deliver? What is the, you know, the environment you’re trying to create if year after year you have your one lone black employee because you only brought in two black employees and there’s 4000 other employees and you didn’t provide them with a community, you didn’t provide them with the support and they keep leaving and you’re saying, well, gosh, we really want to get to this goal of having, you know, like twenty percent of our executive staff needs to be people of color. You’re never going to get there.


Michelle: [00:17:55] It’s never going to happen because you didn’t put the support systems in place. So I want you to look at what your markets are. Your target audience is what your demographics are. You can look at the demographics of your city or your country or your nation, whatever it needs to be, but have a goal that’s meaningful to you.


Michelle: [00:18:11] And for a lot of my clients, you know, I have clients that have one hundred people and their hundred people are they have seventy-two white men. Right. And so having a goal of just having two women is a huge goal for them because they haven’t even had this goal before. Having a goal of 10 percent woman, that’s another goal. Having a goal of one black person. That’s a goal.


Michelle: [00:18:32] And you might think, well, this country is thirteen percent. That’s not a great goal. But it’s a goal that matters for them. So that’s why I want people to work toward your goal. And if you hit your goal, great. And if you didn’t hit your goal, fine. But figure out what were the steps you were taking to get there. And that is for me where the different was.


Hanna: [00:18:49] Makes a lot of sense. What advice do you have for small businesses and startups? Because culture, a corporate and organizational culture really starts at the very beginning. Not when they have 50 employees or 100. They have a culture. They just may not like it or know what it is. So . . .


Michelle: [00:19:08] Right.




Hanna: [00:19:08] . . . For a startup or a small business to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion where you’re not talking about 10 percent because they may only have three people, you know, to put that.


Michelle: [00:19:23] Right, and they’re probably your two best friends from college. Right, because the people that you start this company with,


Hanna: [00:19:27] It could be. It could be. Exactly. But in terms of mindset, in terms of how to think about this, in terms of instilling the values within their organization, so as they grow, they’re open minded to diversity and inclusion instead of just looking for more people that look like them in the mirror. What do you suggest?


Michelle: [00:19:51] And I think what you just said was brilliant, right? That’s exactly it.


Michelle: [00:19:55] I tell leaders, especially when I talked with my startup companies, you know, when you started this company, where was your goal? What were you thinking of? What were the values that you want to instill in this organization?


Michelle: [00:20:05] I started my company, Inclusion Nation. I had a great sense of what I wanted to get to, where I wanted to be. And then I had people who told me that, Michelle, you aren’t going there fast enough. Or Michelle, have you thought about this? They critiqued me. They pushed me. They made me see my blind spots.


Michelle: [00:20:20] And that’s what I would like every single leader looking at startups, looking at companies, and remember that startups aren’t like, you know, some fancy Silicon Valley term. Women especially start startups every single day. So I want us to look at our businesses and say, what am I not seeing?


Michelle: [00:20:34] If I’m hiring my two best friends from college, if I’m hiring my assistant that I had for ten years when I was at my law firm, whatever it is, I want you to look at whatever blind spots that you have and challenge yourself and say here, I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m not seeing. But what I’m going to do is to put into place someone who I may not agree with. And I’ve done this many times. I want to hire someone who sees it differently than I do.


Michelle: [00:20:56] And we are going to work together to make sure that we are covering the different aspects and different perspectives that we’re not seeing. And it’s not perfect. Right. But it’s a start. Because part of how you interrupt bias and part of how you recognize racism, part of how you, you know, increase inclusion, is trying to figure out what the empathy practice actors are. What is the world beyond the world that you are seeing yourself.


Michelle: [00:21:19] And when you put people in boxes and when you use your mental shortcuts, all those things, what is it that you’re not seeing when you do that? And so getting people in place whether as full time or temporary who can see a perspective that is different than yours I think that is so crucial and so essential if we’re going to do this work for real.


Hanna: [00:21:36] Sounds like a plan. Let me ask you about the fear factor. Because I would imagine that,  going back to what you said at the beginning of our conversation, when you’re asking people to peel back the onion and keep asking why? Why? You know, you have to be like a two-year-old. Why?


Michelle: [00:21:56] There was a great, actually, when we did this exercise one of my clients did a video, and they use their two-year-old asking why, why over and over again. But that’s smart. I never thought about it that way. That’s brilliant.




Hanna: [00:22:07] But what do you think of the fear factor and how to neutralize it?


Michelle: [00:22:14] I think people are afraid of a lot of things, and I think that’s really generic, but they are they’re afraid of what’s going to happen to the markets. They’re afraid of what happens in the next election. They’re afraid of getting their name plastered on Twitter and having them being called racist.


Michelle: [00:22:29] They’re afraid that there will be pushback from their majority employees, that they’re being discriminatory. They are afraid that they are going to say and do the wrong thing. And they are afraid every single day that someone is going to say, oh, you’re fired, because what you did was hurtful and painful and it was to everybody. Right.


Michelle: [00:22:47] So what I tell my leaders, and this applies to anybody as an individual, is what is your why? And this is the last question I ask in my book, why are you doing this? And maybe it goes back to what we said earlier, you know about the values. But I want people to think about why they are doing this. And I ask at the end of my book, because as you were venturing on this journey of inclusion and this journey of equality, you are going to get pushback.


Michelle: [00:23:11] You are going to get people who will tell you you don’t know what you’re talking about and equality doesn’t work for the bottom line. And why are you lowering the bar and you are doing this wrong and you will get pushback from everything. You’re not going fast enough. You’re going too slowly. You’re going too fast. You’re ruffling too many feathers. Do you really want this?


Michelle: [00:23:30] Everyone will push back at you. And so two things. You got to get your allies in the corner. And I have some definitions of like who are your ambassadors? Who are your saboteurs? Who are the people who are going to undermine you? Like figure out who they are. So you have them in line. Right.


Michelle: [00:23:42] But also figure out what is your why. Why are you committing to this work? You know, in 2020, we had so many leaders commit to this work after George Ford was murdered and commit to standing up for change. And they committed to do a whole lot of reasons that they committed to it. I want you to remember that.


Michelle: [00:23:59] Why? Because that would give you the courage to keep going and it gives you the courage to remember all the people who are marginalized, all the people who bias excludes from success, all the people who are not getting access to the good work and the connections simply because of who they are, not because the work that they do isn’t good. It’s brilliant work that they’re doing. They just don’t get the access to the inside networks. Right.


Michelle: [00:24:20] And so, as you remember, what is your why and why you are doing this? Please hold on to this because you will feel that fear and you will feel that pain of rejection. And you may not be the most popular person in the room, but keep on holding on to your why and come back to it over and over and over again.


Hanna: [00:24:36] All good. Well, Michelle, this has been really enlightening. The book, again, is Authentic Diversity How to Change the Workplace for Good. And it’s available at your favorite bookseller and of course, on Amazon. So thank you so much for joining me today.


Michelle: [00:24:51] Thank you so much for having me. It was really great pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for listening to me, everybody.


Hanna: [00:24:55] That’s our show for today. But don’t go anywhere. I have a really easy ask for you. Would you please open your podcast app and give us a five-star review and leave a comment about what you love most about the show? I do read them all and it’ll take you less than a minute. And while you’re at it, share this episode, tell someone about it, because the best way to grow our audience is by word of mouth.


Hanna: [00:25:16] And if you want the detailed show notes, links to connect with my guest or stuff that we talked about, even if you want to ask a question, have a show idea. Come on over to I’ll catch you on the next episode. And in the meantime, have a great day and even better tomorrow.

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Guest: Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle SilverthornMichelle Silverthorn is a recognized organizational diversity expert and the founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation where she works with Fortune 500 companies, tech startups, nonprofits and universities to design authentic, inclusive spaces designed on equity, belonging and authenticity.

Michelle is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School.

She’s also a TED speaker and author of the book Authentic Diversity How to Change the Workplace for Good.

Watch Michelle’s TEDX presentation here.


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